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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Eagle

Chem building renovates

The Beeghly Building, home to AU's Chemistry Department, reopened Friday after an extensive six-week renovation of the building's ventilation and exhaust systems and removal of a potentially explosive residue, Willy Suter said, director of Physical Plant Operations.

The entire ductwork system on the three floors of the building was replaced after a routine inspection in July revealed a buildup of perchlorates, which have a potential for small explosions, Suter said.

"What we discovered was that there was a crystalline substance stemming from the use of perchloric acid in the ductwork that could explode if it was impacted," Suter said.

AU Chemistry Professor Jim Girard, who acted as the interface between the faculty and students of the chemistry department, physical plant, and the contractors, said the building is now completely safe and commended Physical Plant for its work.

"They did a really great job identifying the problem and remedying the problem. We really appreciate them taking on a big job that needed to be handled so carefully," Girard said.

Suter could not comment on the exact cost of the repairs but estimated it in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

He contracted with a number of companies for the overhaul, including ACM as the abatement company and a small general contractor that helped with demolition and construction.

"ACM was terrific. They came in and really, in short order, had a very complex project put together for us very quickly," he said.

All the existing ductwork needed to be steam cleaned until readings showed no trace of perchlorates and could then be removed, he said.

Girard and the Chemistry Department relocated to the McKinley Building during the summer construction.

"I interfaced with the faculty and [Suter] to make sure that when we moved out everything was secure and ready," he said.

President Ladner's office issued a memorandum on July 16, announcing the closing of the building and an explanation of perchlorates.

While the statement said, "no respiratory, inhalation or other exposure risks were present," it also stressed that "a potential for small explosions that could endanger persons working on the ducts" existed.

Cyndee Hyland, a sophomore work-study student in CAS, said she felt safer knowing the University acted promptly.

"I think as soon as they found out, they took the right course of action by closing down the building and getting rid of the problem," she said.

Suter said safety was the number one priority during the project. "One of the primary concerns was that whatever we did, was done safely because the stuff is so volatile," he said.

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